Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Edward R. Carr's Delivering Development: Globalization's Shoreline and the Road to a Sustainable Future.
When we hit what we thought was another trash pit in the Ghanaian village of Dominase, we had seen so many of these that we did not expect anything terribly interesting. A quick glance at the first artifacts out of the pit confirmed a late 1800s fill date, much like all the other trash pits we found. This sort of find had become so routine that I left my field assistant Francis Quayson to supervise its excavation and went to oversee other crew members in another part of the site.
Things changed rapidly when Francis called a halt to his group's digging and came to me with a long bone he could not identify. We routinely found goat and sheep bones in these trash pits, and even found one cow bone, which was surprising, as beef is expensive and cattle are not raised in or around these villages. However, this bone was different. I was reluctant to identify it as human, because the Fante people of central Ghana treat their dead with some reverence and usually bury them at least six feet underground, or as deep as they can go until they hit bedrock. After closing that excavation area for the day, I took the bone to the Cape Coast compound where the larger Syracuse University archaeological team was based, and found our physical anthropologist, Joe Johnson. I showed him the bone and said, "Please tell me this isn't people." Joe looked at the bone for a few seconds and then stated, "Oh, that's people."
The next week of my life was dedicated to clearing the trash pit out to find the rest of the body. As it turned out, at the bottom of the pit there was a nearly complete skeleton lying on its side in a slightly flexed position typical of burials in this area. There was no sign of a coffin, suggesting burial in a shroud. The acidic clay soil had taken a serious toll on the bones. The smallest and most spongy bone materials had long since dissolved, but the long bones, ribs, and other significant bones were intact. All that was missing was the head. I believe it was accidentally broken up and removed by the person who dug the pit in the late 1800s, unaware of the burial below.
There is something very intimate about sitting in a grave with a skeleton, gently brushing soil off bones, beads, and other burial goods. The bones told us that this was a young man, probably around 19 or 20 years old at the time of his death. They did not provide any clues to the cause of his death. However, the grave goods associated with this young man told us a great deal about the connections between the people of this village and the larger world in the earliest days of the settlement. The materials in the grave all date to around 1825—the burial is the earliest evidence of occupation we have for this village. Buried with the man were beads from Venice and Bohemia (today the western part of the Czech Republic), a Dutch clay smoking pipe, and British sheet brass that had been hammered by an Akan craftsman into a vessel called a forowa, used to hold personal items. The markers of status and respect accorded this young man in his burial were global goods from various parts of Europe. This burial alone makes it clear just how integrated the people of this village were into the global economy, even in the earliest days of Dominase's settlement. These goods were common enough, and had been around for long enough, to be incorporated into their lifeways such that they made sense as burial goods. This burial leaves little doubt that those who settled these villages were at least partially motivated by accessing this global trade, as well as integrating into the regional political economy.
Dominase and Ponkrum were not settled at random in the coastal hinterland of Elmina in Ghana. Instead the first residents set up alongside a road that the historian and archaeologist Gerard Chouin has identified as Asante Road #7. This road linked Elmina, the principal trading post in the area, to the powerful Asante kingdom inland. In the early 1800s slaves, gold, and various materials passed down this road from Asante to Elmina and the waiting ships of the Dutch, who controlled the trade around Elmina at that time. A tremendous variety of materials returned to Asante by this same route. By settling along this road, the founders of Dominase and Ponkrum positioned themselves to obtain trade goods in exchange for their crops along a reliable route to the markets at Elmina. These settlements are therefore creations of the interaction of a globalizing economy with this part of the world. In fact, places we often characterize as lacking, or needing, development are often better understood as the outcomes of development and globalization in the past.